Digital Marketing, Social Media Strategy

Blogs and the new transparency of communication

Unless you’re a recently thawed caveperson, you’ve heard about blogs. No current-day buzzword is as buzzy as “blog” which leapt from geek-dom to mainstream faster than the evaporation of Bode Miller’s career. (author’s note: Since this was written, Mr. Miller has been resurgent and won this year’s overall World Cup skiing title. Apologies Bode)

Blogs (coined in 1999 and shortened from the original “Web log” circa 1997) are quite simple really. They are collections of Web site links and written commentary, typically on a single Web page and sorted chronologically.

From a pure technology standpoint, blogs are so old school they’re practically Amish. The pre-cursor of blogs, the online message board or forum is actually more advanced because it sorts commentary by topic. But the simplicity of the blog format – easy to read, easy to participate – is the keystone of their popularity.

In the mid 1990s, the recurring nightmare of old media was that the low cost and high speed of online information dissemination would result in a tidal wave of new, Web-only news sources that would threaten their monopoly on news and advertising revenue. Other than Drudge Report and a small cadre of others, it didn’t happen then. It’s happening now.

How many people could possibly have the desire to regularly post their thoughts on a Web page that anyone can see? More than you’d think. Blog search engine Technorati indexes 29.6 million separate blogs as of this writing. That’s digital musings writ large.

Blogs started as digital journals where persons could point others to interesting Web sites and tidbits, and indeed many of the most popular and influential blogs today showcase the opinions of an individual, augmented by comments from readers. Hundreds of luminaries in every conceivable field have taken to blogging like Britney Spears to poor mothering decisions. They are bypassing the traditional channels and taking their opinions to the citizenry unfiltered.

In addition to hugely influential political blogs, corporate blogs from General Motors, Microsoft, Scottsdale’s GoDaddy and hundreds of others are available for anyone to read. It’s like the head of North American marketing for GM coming over for a beer and some nachos and leaving you a note about why he thinks the launch of the Buick Lucerne in Canada will be a success.

This instant and open sharing of information and opinion is transformative and ties communities of like-minded people together in virtual tribes that can wield substantial real world influence. And smart marketers understand and embrace tools of influence.

While there are a number of blog-specific tactics, there are four primary methods for marketers to harness the power of blogs:

Capture intra-company knowledge

Tired of reading and answering dozens of mind-numbing emails from co-workers? Consider establishing an internal blog where employees can post information and opinion in an easy to read format that doesn’t clog the inbox of the entire firm. This is especially useful in large organizations with multiple offices and enables groups that don’t usually interact to monitor each other’s activities and uncover synergies that previously would have remained hidden.

Spread your message

Getting a new product or service mentioned on an influential blog is the new product placement, and is a burgeoning offshoot of public relations.

In addition, advertising on blogs is replacing search as the “next big thing” for online marketing. Reaching a hyper-motivated, engaged, highly literate audience through an ad on the right blogs is a marketing tactic right out of Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point. There are blog advertising services that specialize in brand-building, and others that focus on direct response.

Do it yourself

If your company has a product or service that appeals to a non-niche audience you should consider publishing a corporate blog. Telling people in a straightforward, relevant, and timely fashion what’s happening within the company can turn customers into raving fans and enables you to have a frank and often insightful ongoing dialog that has value far beyond focus groups.

But if you go this route, be prepared to care and feed your new blog regularly. An ignored blog gives off a cool breeze. It’s not air-conditioning, it’s indifference to your customers’ opinions.

Pay attention

Even if you’re not ready to start a company blog, you should jump online (after finishing this fine column, natch) and search your products and services on Technorati, Feedster, or Google’s Blogsearch. You may be surprised to see how often the blogging community is talking about you. Bloggers can serve as a weathervane or early warning detection system for customer opinion about your organization, and you need to be eavesdropping on this conversation.

Blogs are incredibly inexpensive, easy to establish and maintain, and are the online harbinger of a truly connected world where people organize themselves by interests and opinion, not by geography, age, gender, race, or religion. The Web’s long promised democratization of information has manifested itself in the form of blogs, and marketers that have not done so need to plug into this phenomenon now, while there’s still time to catch up.

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